December 14, 2016

Princeton Dems Promise Action, Face Diversity of Difficult Issues

Local Democrats are ready for action, as they face a daunting array of important issues.

About 150 residents of Princeton and surrounding communities gathered at the Suzanne Patterson Center behind Monument Hall on Stockton Street Sunday evening to voice their concerns and to help the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) plan strategies for political action.

“At least we can thank Donald Trump for one thing,” PCDO president Owen O’Donnell told the group. “He has energized us.”

An air of serious concern prevailed as the mood ranged from pessimism, despair, anger, and fear to determination and optimism. Emphasizing the importance of upcoming elections for governor and the state legislature, Mr. Owen voiced the widespread doubt engendered by last month’s election. ”Who are we as Democrats?” he questioned. “Have we lost our way? What’s our message? How did Trump and the Republicans become the Party of the working people?”

The problem was not a lack of urgent issues, but perhaps an over-abundance of challenges.

The economy, health and health care, the environment, civil rights, state politics, election reform, national politics, and communications and media were the major issues brought forward from last month’s PCDO meeting. The specific concerns of Sunday’s participants, as each placed three red dots under categories listed on posters on the wall, were spread fairly evenly across the different issues.

Forty-eight cited climate change and upholding the Paris accords. Forty-four noted the need to combat hatred, racism, and Islamophobia, with 20 more choosing refugee and immigrant protection and rights. Forty-two placed red dots under Trump’s appointments, with 29 more citing Trump’s business conflicts, and 29 highlighted the 2018 mid-term elections. Twenty-eight cited the 2017 New Jersey governor’s race, with 19 more focusing on next year’s state senate and assembly elections. Thirty-seven focused on ending gerrymandering and voter suppression.

Thirty red dots highlighted support for women’s reproductive rights, with an additional 16 calling for protection of the affordable care act, 17 urging a fight against privatization of Medicare and 12 advocating for gun safety. On the economy, 15 called for genuine, publicly funded infrastructure investment, and 15 for job training and manufacturing jobs for the middle class. In the realm of communications and media, 22 noted the need for responsible news media, as opposed to fake news, and eight expressed concern for free expression and freedom of the press.

Jon Durbin, past president of the PCDO and leader of one of 10 discussion groups that wrestled with the issues, emphasized the importance of getting a Democratic governor elected next year, as well as ensuring the re-election of Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker in Princeton’s 16th district.

“Our democracy may be at stake,” Mr. Durbin said, in reporting on the major concerns of his group. “Our free and open society is under assault. How do we develop the tools of civil, public
discourse that we seem to have lost? Our democratic institutions are at risk. What are we going to do about it?”

Mr. O’Donnell saw the recent response of local Democrats, particularly people from the wider central New Jersey area outside Princeton, as unprecedented in his past eight years on the PCDO. ”People want to know ‘What can I do?’ They are hungry for information and they want to get involved,” he said. He described the PCDO as a clearinghouse of information that people can take and work on individually or in groups.

He added that the PCDO will be holding sessions to help educate members and providing volunteers with scripts for calling legislators’ offices.

Warning of the dangers of people being overwhelmed and “stupefied into inaction” in the face of current political turmoil, he emphasized, “You’re all living examples to make sure that that doesn’t happen. First and foremost you have to build at the base levels and make sure that Andrew Zwicker is elected next year ”

Mr. O’Donnell reiterated that a primary goal of the meeting was for everyone to walk away with at least one action item. “We need you to speak up, to make sure that your voice is heard,” he said. “If everybody commits to act, we can move forward. We can get a lot accomplished together.”